North Hertfordshire set to gain at least 14,000 new homes by 2031 as Local Plan is voted forward at Letchworth meeting
PUBLISHED: 22:11 11 April 2017 | UPDATED: 16:07 12 April 2017
North Hertfordshire is set to gain at least 14,000 new homes over the next 14 years after the Local Plan up to 2031 was voted forward tonight.
A meeting for all North Herts District Council members endorsed the plan this evening at the Spirella Ballroom in Letchworth’s Icknield Way.
It will now go on for consideration by government planning inspectors, and is set for submission to the Secretary of State by the end of next month.
The Conservative council’s plan was backed by 29 councillors’ votes to eight, with three abstentions.
Councillor David Levett, responsible for planning at the council, argued passionately for the plan – reasoning that if it were rejected, the council would be forced to either go back to the start or allow North Herts’ future to be decided by someone unacquainted with the district.
Labour group leader Frank Radcliffe also voted for the plan, arguing that the great need for social housing outweighed the value of certain Green Belt land, much of which he said was ‘poor-quality scrub land defined as Green Belt’.
He said: “This denies decent homes to people on lower incomes and forces them into long commutes. We’re an aging population. Who’s going to work in our NHS and public sector? Where are they going to live?
“There’s a risk that our towns will become ghost towns. We need housing for our residents or we’re going to be left behind.”
Labour’s Ian Mantle agreed, saying: “This district has a need for places for our children and grandchildren to live, but for that we need control. We can’t do that unless we send this plan forward tonight to the inspector for examination.”
But Ian Albert – also of Labour – reluctantly voted against, saying the plan was flawed.
He said: “Getting the plan right is the best way forward, not hoping the inspector will do the work for us.”
Liberal Democrat leader Steve Jarvis spoke against the plan, saying: “This seems one of the most basic decisions this council has taken for a long time.”
Several councillors had indicated they would vote for the plan despite misgivings in the hope that the inspector would iron things out – but Mr Jarvis was sceptical.
He said: “What’s the point of being a councillor if when you think something is wrong you vote for it, and hope the inspector will come along like a fairy godmother and sort it out for you?”
Fellow Lib Dem councillor Terry Tyler also voted against, explaining: “In all communications I’ve had about the Local Plan, I’ve found no-one that supports this plan. Not one.”
Speaking to the Comet afterwards, Mr Radcliffe queried why the Lib Dems called for new homes nationally, yet voted against them at district level.
Council leader Lynda Needham, the last to speak before the vote, said: “This odyssey is one of the most important decisions that this council will make for many years to come.
“We can only deal with what has been offered to us. We don’t go for compulsory purchase orders and never will. Even if we do, we don’t have the money. We can build on the land that has been offered to us by landowners who live among us.
“This will provide housing for the generations that come after us.”
Referring to claims that the Conservatives were holding its members to a strict whip, Mrs Needham pointed out that some Tory councillors had spoken against the plan, and added: “We are not holding a stick over members’ heads. That is simply not true.”
Several members noted the fact that without demonstration that the five-year housing need was satisfied, presumption would go to granting permission for future developments – with Conservative councillor David Barnard referring to the possibility of ‘planning anarchy’.
Baldock Conservative councillors Jim McNally and Michael Weeks, who had campaigned strongly against the plan, voted for it tonight – telling the meeting that the inspector would take the huge number of objections into account.
Fellow Baldock councillor Michael Muir, also Tory, said he felt he must vote against because of the strength of feeling among his constituents.
During a six-week consultation in October and November last year, the district council’s Local Plan attracted responses from 2,549 unique individuals, of whom 2,505 – 98 per cent – objected.
In all there were 5,675 representations, of which 5,296 – 94 per cent – were objections.
Tonight’s debate and vote were preceded by representations from Jack Rigg and Cheryl Norgan of Graveley Parish Council, Anthony Burrows of Save the World’s First Garden City, Luton borough councillor Peter Chapman and Carolyn Cottier, who lives in the proposed east of Luton development area.
All argued against the plan – with Mr Rigg calling for a united front across North Hertfordshire to make opposition clear to the inspector.
Mr Burrows said: “I say to you this draft Local Plan has an enormous hole in it because it doesn’t mention our country’s decision to leave the European Union.
“Many homes in London and satellite towns are being bought by foreign residents or overseas companies, making it even harder for young people to find a first home.
“Frankly there is no point in councillors saying that their plan is intended to provide housing for their sons and daughters without adopting such a policy.
“Our three MPs have spoken against building on our Green Belt and have proposed instead a third garden city in North Hertfordshire. There’s no mention of that.”
Moving to the issue of the New Homes Bonus – introduced by the coalition government in 2010, and giving local authorities a hefty financial boost for each new home built – Mr Burrows accused the council of allowing the government to ‘bribe and blackmail you to claim the bonus, and so force you to build on our Green Belt’.
Mr Chapman spoke fervently against the plan, citing the availability of alternative sites north of Luton, and asking: “How will this development east of Luton become a community rather than some transit camp?
“This development doesn’t solve your problem, and it doesn’t solve ours – it just makes the situation worse.”
Issues raised before tonight’s meeting included the scale and distribution of development, with Baldock and Bygrave councillors and campaigners arguing that their area stands to receive an unfairly large proportion of new housing.
Baldock is to receive an estimated 3,436 new homes on eight Green Belt sites under the plan, with 2,800 of these going north of the town – the biggest development in the blueprint.
This means Baldock will increase in size by 80 per cent, while Hitchin, Letchworth and Royston will grow by 11, 15 and 25 per cent respectively.
Questions have also been raised over the infrastructure required for the proposed developments, and the failure to consider a new settlement such as a garden city to help satisfy housing demand.
Some of the homes in the plan have been included on the boundaries with neighbouring authorities – with 930 earmarked for Great Ashby, a part of Stevenage coming under the district council’s remit, and 916 listed for neighbouring Graveley.
Three adjoining sites to the east of Luton, near Offley, will receive 2,100 dwellings, of which 1,950 will address needs ‘that cannot be physically accommodated within Luton’.
Ms Cottier said Luton’s problems in this regard were of its own making, and referred to the sale of alternative sites within Luton to overseas developers.
She said: “This is akin to me selling my driveway to a Chinaman and then telling my neighbour to concrete over his driveway so I can park my car on it.
“Once the Green Belt is gone it’s gone forever. Will you be the ones to throw it away?”
The plan was approved tonight with only minor changes and additions identified by district council planning officers – including, at Stevenage Borough Council’s request, ‘provision towards unmet employment needs arising from Stevenage’ in Baldock.
Following representations from Anglian Water, odour assessments around the sewage works north of Letchworth and near Royston have also been written into the plan to ensure development takes place at an appropriate distance.
Statements from the Environment Agency, Natural England, Herts County Council, the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust and the RSPB led to a number of modifications regarding ground conditions, flood risk assessment and wildlife habitats.
The full recorded vote was as follows:
• David Barnard (Con, Hitchwood, Offa & Hoo)
• John Booth (Con, Letchworth South East – chairman)
• Julian Cunningham (Con, Letchworth South East)
• Steve Deakin-Davies (Con, Knebworth)
• Faye Frost (Con, Hitchwood, Offa & Hoo)
• Jean Green (Con, Royston Palace)
• Nicola Harris (Con, Hitchin Highbury)
• Simon Harwood (Con, Hitchin Highbury)
• Steve Hemingway (Con, Knebworth)
• Terry Hone (Con, Letchworth South West)
• David Levett (Con, Letchworth South East)
• Ben Lewis (Con, Royston Palace)
• Bernard Lovewell (Con, Hitchin Walsworth)
• Jim McNally (Con, Baldock Town)
• Ian Mantle (Lab, Letchworth East)
• Paul Marment (Con, Letchworth Grange)
• Alan Millard (Con, Hitchin Walsworth)
• Gerald Morris (Con, Ermine)
• Lynda Needham (Con, Letchworth South East – leader of the council)
• Janine Paterson (Con, Arbuy)
• Frank Radcliffe (Lab, Hitchin Oughton – leader of the Labour group)
• Mike Rice (Con, Letchworth South West)
• Deepak Sangha (Lab, Letchworth Wilbury)
• Val Shanley (Con, Baldock East)
• Adrian Smith (Lab, Hitchin Bearton)
• Martin Stears-Handscomb (Lab, Hitchin Oughton)
• Richard Thake (Con, Hitchin Priory)
• Michael Weeks (Con, Baldock Town)
• Ian Albert (Lab, Hitchin Bearton)
• Clare Billing (Lab, Letchworth Grange)
• Paul Clark (Lib Dem, Hitchin Highbury)
• Jane Gray (Con, Codicote)
• Steve Jarvis (Lib Dem, Weston & Sandon – leader of the Liberal Democrat group)
• Lorna Kercher (Lab, Letchworth East)
• Michael Muir (Con, Baldock Town)
• Terry Tyler (Lib Dem, Chesfield)
• Cathryn Henry (Con, Chesfield)
• Fiona Hill (Con, Royston Heath)
• Tony Hunter (Con, Royston Meridian)
• Judi Billing (Lab, Hitchin Bearton)
• John Bishop (Con, Kimpton)
• Bill Davidson (Con, Royston Meridian)
• Elizabeth Dennis (Lab, Hitchin Walsworth)
• Gary Grindal (Lab, Letchworth Wilbury)
• Sandra Lunn (Lab, Letchworth Grange)
• Claire Strong (Con, Hitchwood, Offa & Hoo)